RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians gave their national poet Mahmoud Darwish what amounted to a state funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday, mourning a man who articulated their sense of loss, exile and defiance.
Around 10,000 people joined the procession that took his coffin, draped in a Palestinian flag, to a hilltop grave.
“O Mahmoud, O Mahmoud, you rest and we will continue the struggle,” mourners chanted as the poet was buried to a 21-shot salute. Darwish’s poems were recited over loudspeakers.
A helicopter had brought his body from Jordan, where it had been flown from the United States. Darwish, 67, died on Saturday from complications after heart surgery in Houston, Texas.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received the flower-strewn coffin at his Ramallah headquarters.
“He was the master of the word and wisdom, the symbol who expressed our national feeling, our human constitution, our declaration of independence,” Abbas said in a speech.
Darwish crafted the Palestinian declaration of independence adopted by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1988.
“Somehow we felt that as long as there is Mahmoud Darwish, there is a sense of goodness, a sense of hope, a sense of possibility for salvation,” said lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi.
A vehicle topped with a yellow wreath bore Darwish’s casket slowly through the streets of Ramallah to a hill near the city’s Cultural Palace, where he read his last poems in July.
Black-clad mourners wept and consoled each other. Many carried portraits of Darwish and Palestinian flags.
“These crowds reflect the deep loss that Palestinians and Arabs have suffered,” said Khaled Najem, 57, an Israeli Arab from Darwish’s home village of al-Jdaideh, near Haifa. “But his poetry gives us hope and guidance.”
Lama al-Khelleh, a 28-year-old housewife from Nablus, said she felt bereaved by Darwish’s death. “He was a symbol of Palestinian identity,” she said. “I feel I have lost my father.”
The official funeral organized by the Palestinian Authority is an honor previously extended only to the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.
Darwish’s widely translated poetry captured the feelings of many Palestinians and Arabs. Set to music, his poems were sung by Lebanon’s Marcel Khalifeh and other Arab singers.
In a rare political intervention, Darwish denounced Palestinian infighting after Hamas Islamists routed Abbas’s Fatah faction and seized the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Hamas-Fatah enmity remains unhealed, but in death, Darwish drew tributes from both sides, with senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar calling him a symbol of Palestinian culture whose poetry crossed psychological and geographical lines.
“Darwish has managed to break many of the taboos between the occupier and the people who resist the occupation,” he said.
Many ordinary Gazans were saddened by Darwish’s death.
“Darwish was Palestine personified in a man full of love, nationalism and passion,” said teacher Menna Ali. “I will weep every time I read or recall one of his great poems.”
Born in territory that is now in Israel, Darwish was jailed several times by the Israelis for his political activities. He left in 1971 for the Soviet Union. Exile in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris followed. He made his home in Ramallah in the 1990s.
While abroad he rose to prominence in the PLO, but resigned in 1993 over the Oslo accords that Arafat signed with Israel.